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Memoir review: Completely Cats – Stories with Cattitude

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Whether this is really a memoir, I’m not sure, but it is certainly a collection of stories from true life. For cat fans (like me), it is essential reading, but let me explain.

Author, Beth Haslam, and editor, Zoe Marr, both committed cat lovers, decided they wanted to do something to support cat charities working in both the rescue and care fields. They invited owners (or should we call them carers?) from around the world to contribute stories of their own special experiences with their moggies. I have the privilege of being included in the anthology; however, mine is just one of the many touching, funny, and often remarkable tales of these wonderful feline individualists who choose to live among us and share their lives with us.

There are stories of cats that have survived horrific injuries, cats that have saved their humans from injury, cats that have sensed their owners’ illness. There is also a kleptomaniac cat, a snake warrior and many many others. I have just loved dipping in and out of these stories and the illustrations at the head of each chapter are a delight.

I can highly recommend this book for all fans of of our feline friends. If you think  your purry furry is unique, intelligent, astonishing and psychic, try some of these. You’ll find that each cat in this book is a very special individual indeed.

Here is the link to the book on AmazonUK, but of course it is available everywhere and the paperback is a treasure that would make a wonderful gift.

The added bonus of buying the book is that a percentage of the proceeds goes to the cat charities working to help our feline friends who are less fortunate than the subjects of this collection.

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A mini memoir dedicated to secretaries

Please click on the link to read this fascinating post!

via In Memory of Typists

It’s me in the hot seat…

Thanks to Lucinda E Clarke… MEET VALERIE POORE

Review of a sort of memoir: Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

I’m cheating a bit by reviewing this book here. It is only part memoir. The rest is family history, fable, and legend, as well as (probably) quite a bit of pure fabrication. But I don’t care. I absolutely adored this book and want to review it here.

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Carrying Albert home is the story of a journey: a real one as well as a metaphorical one. What is true is that it involves the author Homer Hickam’s real parents, Homer snr and Elsie. What also seems to be true is that Elsie had an alligator called Albert, that she loved him (possibly more than her husband), and that Homer snr and she carried Albert from the coal town in West Verginia where they lived to Orlando in Florida.

However, as Homer (Sonny) Hickham writes, both his parents could tell tall stories, so the piecing together of their adventures on the road to take the delightful Albert (who makes yeah, yeah, yeah happy sounds) home to Florida may or may not have a grain or two of truth. Whatever the case, this book completely won my heart. The description of Homer and Elsie’s adventures on the road and the gradual growth of the couple’s appreciation and affection for each other are both off the wall and deeply moving. I was completely smitten with Albert, who appeared to be not only capable of loyalty and affection but also endearing humour and uncanny insight. I was also taken by the strange presence of the rooster. It flew into the car one day and became Albert’s friend and Homer’s parrot, but no one knew why it was there and it never got a name.

The adventures are related in episodes as if told to the author by each of his parents. Set in the period of the depressed 30s in the US, the tales become increasingly bizarre and include the couple getting caught up in bank robberies, meeting both John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, running bootleg liquor, making Tarzan and Jane movies and nearly being finished off by a hurricane. The whole book is imbued with a certain whimsy and it made me think of Forrest Gump meets The Grapes of Wrath. Elsie is complex, Homer is straightforward and Albert is a heart winner. Although the story begins with Homer giving Elsie an ultimatum (‘it’s that alligator or me’), Homer too develops a touching bond with the reptile and I have to admit I was in tears at the end. Love wins the day, but there is sadness too; there is also the complication of another man at the journey’s end.

There was so much I loved about this book: the beautiful clarity of the way it is written, the quirky, odd stories, the even quirkier characters and the impossible adventures. I know it will be in my top books of all time and will sit up there with Monsignor Quixote, Absolute Friends, Offshore and Tortilla Flats. Very highly recommended indeed and one I will definitely read again.

 

Memoir Review: Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria by Clare Pedrick

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The best thing for me about this very enjoyable memoir was the impression I gained of life in an Italian village. Set in the 80s, journalist Clare Pedrick tells the story of how at the age of 26, she impulsively bought a virtual ruin in Umbria following the break up of a long term relationship. With a degree in Italian from Cambridge University, she was probably better equipped than most to deal with the communication minefield that went with both buying a property and arranging for its renovation. Nevertheless, she had her share of crises to handle, and some of these were quite alarming (imagine being told you don’t own the land surrounding your house when you thought you did). But help frequently came, and usually in the form of her charmingly quirky Italian village friends and the community in general. The colour and vibrancy of these people are what make this book for me. I loved Angela, Ercolino, Benedetto and Tito, and also the two rival women, Generosa and Settima. They were such characters, all of them.

More like a novel than a memoir really, the book follows Clare’s growing enchantment with her new life as well as her renovations on her crumbling house and her budding journalism career at first from home, and then in Rome. However, Chickens Eat Pasta is actually a love story, not only about the author’s love affair with Italy, but also her growing relationship with the man who later became her husband, and given that she is apparently still married to him, it had a happy ever after ending.

There were lots of cultural lessons to be learnt from the book too, including different attitudes to family, food and housework. I’m not sure I would have survived these as well as she did. However, one of the things that amazed me was learning how Clare handled the uninhibited physical advances of quite a number of local lads. They seemed to think that just because she was alone (at first), and English to boot, she was fair game.  In a way, I was almost outraged on her behalf, but then had to remember this was in the 80s when such behaviour was almost expected by visitors to Italy (i.e the famous bottom pinching). However, I couldn’t help wondering whether this is still normal practice in rural Italy today. Not that young Clare appreciated it at the time either, but I was impressed with how she coped given the risk of upsetting her new neighbours. As for the older members of the community, they were convinced she must be looking for a husband and were determined to find her one. It was positively comical.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading this memoir and I felt as if I too was part of the village and its community. I suppose that being a journalist, Clare Pedrick kept detailed records and diaries; either that or the stories and narrative have been adapted to give the impression of being a novel, as it certainly reads more like fiction than fact.

If you are looking for a book that immerses you in Italian culture, and leaves you with memories of a warm cast of characters, then I can definitely recommended it. But be warned, there aren’t many chickens involved 🙂

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.UK

 

Weberview: From Africa to Amsterdam – meet Lucinda E Clarke

(This post is copied from the original on my Blogger page)

It’s been a long time since I did a weberview here, so I’d like to offer a very warm welcome to Lucinda E Clarke, whose amazing books set in Africa have entertained me on many a long cold evening in Europe.

Lucinda in the sunny climes she loves

Lucinda has written three full length memoirs, one humorous novel and a four book action adventure series. Apart from the humorous book, all her writing is set mainly in Africa, which is where she has lived most of her life. She now lives in Spain, but I can tell from her books her heart, like mine, still lives in the southern hemisphere.

 

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Lucinda’s memoirs and humorous book, Unhappily Ever After

So Lucinda, I’m going to mix my questions up a bit, but they are all things I’ve been curious about since I started reading your memoir ‘Walking on Eggshells’Firstly, then, I’ve read all your books (I think) and have enjoyed every one of them (I know), but which of your books have you most enjoyed writing?

Val, firstly thank you for the opportunity to talk about me, myself my books and my life – no one I meet in person is the slightest bit interested (sad eh? I don’t believe it! VP)

I most enjoyed writing the 4th book in the Amie series “Amie: Cut for Life,” because I was beginning to feel like a proper author. I knew where I was going with it, even though I never map out of any of my books. It took longer than the others, but I believe the end product was the best. I think I’m getting a bit better with practice. Only another 50 or so to go and I should have cracked it.

Well,  I’ve just finished your Worst Riding School in the World, Parts 1 and 2 and I laughed my socks off, so I think you’ve more than cracked it if you can write both humour and drama so well! Anyway, I saw you mentioned how much you loved Botswana. Is that the country you have in mind when you are writing your Amie novels and how well did you get to know Botswana before you moved to South Africa?

I lived in Botswana for almost 3 years and it’s the real Africa. South Africa is more a first world infrastructure (shopping malls, high rises, excellent road network etc) dropped down in the middle of the African bush. There was none of that in Botswana, though we were beside ourselves when they opened the first cinema and a Spar shopping supermarket in Francistown, such luxury!

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Lucinda’s action adventure series set in Africa

I can imagine that. It sounds wonderful in your books, though. Can I ask which you find it easier to write: fact or fiction and why?

The fact is so much easier – you are simply recounting what happened so the story is all mapped out in your head. You don’t get to page 149 and suddenly realize your heroine can’t come to the rescue because you’d put her in a wheelchair and left her in a prison three thousand miles away!

Haha, true, but fact has its own challenges, doesn’t it? Do you think your travels have helped you as a writer? If so, in what way?

Goodness yes! Despite the reviewer who told me I didn’t know what I was talking about (she had never been to Africa, but she had seen it on the television news). You get to meet people who have a different mindset, opinions, knowledge, education and you realize that everything you have been taught until then, was only from one point of view – possibly the media in your own country. Our thoughts are shaped by the propaganda we are fed. “Travel broadens the mind” is one of the truest sayings I’ve ever encountered.

I so agree with that. But how do you think living in Africa has influenced you and your writing?

I was just so incredibly lucky. Like you, I was far away from the suburban areas, living in the bush. My filming took me to chiefs’ kraals, witchdoctor’s huts, agricultural projects, schools, hospitals, local government – I could go on and on and on. I was so privileged to be welcomed to places where I would joke with my African crew “Look after me guys, I’m the only white person for miles and miles!” So many of the people I met touched my heart, so few possessions, so brave, so accepting and often bewildered by the fast-paced modern world that was trying to drag them into the mainstream.
One shoot I remember was when the African government official could not understand why the San (Bushmen) should be allowed to hunt and live as they had for centuries. No, the official policy was they must live in houses with running water and send the children to school and the men must get jobs. They had rounded them up and pushed them into this housing estate miles from anywhere and the San looked so miserable. It was so sad; they didn’t want to live what we call a conventional life.

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Lucinda with an African chief

Strange how even Africans can totally misunderstand other Africans. Now, as writers we are always striving to improve, aren’t we? Is there anything you find difficult in the writing process, and if so, how are you trying to overcome it? (Sorry, this is a boring question, but I really am curious!)

There are some days when the words don’t come – onset of word retrieval or lack of. Other days I can’t type fast enough to keep up. I get twitchy if I don’t write for a couple of days, but then I’m writing up blogs, or the newsletter or commenting on social media or composing reviews. Basically, I live to write and that’s what was so wonderful about my work in the media. I would be bouncing out of bed screaming “Yeah! It’s Monday!” – although I’d probably worked right through the weekend as well!
I’m a workaholic and was heartbroken leaving the production work behind when we left South Africa. If I feel I’ve hit a brick wall in a book, I plough on, even though I might delete a whole lot later. I’m very disciplined having worked to deadlines so often, I occasionally have to tell myself that it’s not a train smash if I didn’t get 5,000 words done today – I am supposed to be retired after all.

My word, I’d be delirious to write even 1000 words every day. That’s amazing, but Lucinda, I know you’ve been writing for years; do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

Oh yes, it was a report on the Sunday School class I was teaching (to win brownie points to get into teacher training). It was published in the church magazine, but I think I was the only one ever to read it, as I snaffled all the copies and took them home to read! I cringe when I think about it now.

Now you’re being too modest, I’m sure! Are you writing anything at the moment. Can you tell us what it is, and when it’s likely to be available?

I am currently writing book 5 in the Amie series. She’s the young English girl I uproot from the London suburbs and dump in Africa and then, when war breaks out and the last evacuation plane takes off, she is left behind to survive as best she can. Since book 1 I have put her through all kinds of hell, and in this book she gets mixed up in high level international politics over mineral rights which are necessary for nuclear devices. I can’t give much more than that away at this stage but she is still under threat from the government forces who are using her. I hope to have it out sometime this year, but I’ve been so busy marketing I’ve neglected the writing side. I need an extra 6 hours a day!

Well, that sounds as if it’s going to be as unputdownable as the others! I won’t keep you any longer now, Lucinda, as I’m going to pack you off to your keyboard to get writing! Thank you so much for joining me here today. It’s been great to have you on my barge for a chat. At least it hasn’t been windy today so you haven’t had to cling to your cuppa.

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The day I met Lucinda on her flying visit to Amsterdam
A meeting I enjoyed because I admire her immensely

For anyone interested in sampling some of Lucinda’s great books, click here for her Amazon author page.

Lucinda is also active on Facebook

And on Twitter

Have a good week allemaal. I’ll be back with all that’s wet and watery next time!

Memoir Review: The Reckless Years by Frank Kusy

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Link to book on Amazon

The first thing that the reader has to do when they start this book is to suspend any kind of moral judgement about author Frank Kusy’s drug activities. The best approach is simply to read it…and be amazed.

Written from both Frank’s and his wife’s perspectives in alternating chapters, this totally honest, unselfconscious memoir tells the story of how the couple descend into a nightmarish, drug taking cycle following their marriage. The trigger? Not the wedding itself, but the fact that Frank’s mother died on that day too. I must say I wasn’t sure what Frank actually felt for his mother. He seemed to be both devoted to her and frustrated by her, so because of the latter, it wasn’t quite clear to me why her death should have cast him into such despair. What surprised me more, however, was that he was already forty when the period began, and over fifty when he finally managed to get himself out of it by discovering the joys of natural endorphins. The saddest part was that his wife (Madge), a spunky, clever Dutch academic, was so loyal to him that she followed suit and the pair of them nearly destroyed each other in the process.

I really liked the way the book was written (one chapter by Frank and the next by Madge), and I must say, I especially liked Madge’s chapters. As an adoptive Nederlander, I recognised many of her lovely honest characteristics from my Dutch friends. Added to that, she made me laugh out loud at times. I have a feeling her culture had much to do with the fact she was mentally strong enough to survive the disaster (sorry, Mr Kusy) that her husband became. Luckily, all turns out well in the end, and Frank and Madge are now openly in love with each other, which is a wonderful outcome.

Did I enjoy the book? Not really – how can one enjoy a story of self destruction? But I was fascinated by it and it could well give courage to others going through the same hell. It is very well written, sometimes very funny, and overall, quite gripping. In other words, a truly compelling read. Hats off for your honesty, Mr and Mrs Kusy. May you live a long and loving life together. After what you went through, you deserve it!